Notre Dame's Connaughton confirms plan

South Bend Tribune

A two-sport stance that has been rock-solid the last eight months is expected to stay status quo regardless of what happens in eight days.

Pat Connaughton, who will start his senior year at Notre Dame this fall, is eligible to be selected in next week’s Major League Baseball amateur draft. A right-handed pitcher who went 3-5 with a 3.92 earned-run average this spring, Connaughton also is a small forward on the Notre Dame men’s basketball squad. He is expected to be a critical piece to the hoops puzzle in 2014-15.

Chances are good that the 6-foot-5, 217-pound Connaughton will be a high selection (first five rounds) next week. Playing professionally is a lifelong dream, but something that Connaughton is not willing to chase at the expense of one final season of college hoops, and a final semester of work toward his all-important undergraduate degree in management consulting.

“I’m pretty set on coming back to school, playing basketball and finishing my degree,” Connaughton said during a 20-minute press conference on campus to discuss next week’s draft scenarios. “Right now, the most important thing for me is to finish school, finish up my basketball time here and, at the same time, focus as much as I can on baseball.”

Baseball America ranks Connaughton the No. 128 overall prospect, and No. 4 in Indiana. has Connaughton ranked at No. 87 in its top 300.

Conversations with professional baseball scouts the past couple of months were commonplace for Connaughton. He made no secret of how he sees his future unfolding. Once drafted, Connaughton wants to spend June and most of July playing baseball.

He would return to campus for basketball workouts and accompany the hoops team on its early-August foreign tour of Italy before sliding seamlessly back into college life next fall. He’ll be one semester (15 credit hours) from his degree.

He’s adamant about playing 2014-15 with the Irish basketball team, then turning attention to baseball at season’s end.

Connaughton said Wednesday that roughly 15 major league teams are fine with that scenario and would select him knowing that he’d be a part-time player until March 2015. Among the teams most agreeable to Connaughton’s career plans are the Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Angels and New York Yankees.

About 10-15 pro teams admitted that they wouldn’t be willing to work with Connaughton under the conditions that he finish out his basketball eligibility.

“That’s fine,” Connaughton said. “At the end of the day, it’s just like picking a college. Teams are very intrigued in terms of what happens when I start playing baseball full-time and if that’s what I want to do, up until that time comes, they’re willing to work with me on it.”

Connaughton would retain his basketball eligibility even if he signs a pro baseball contact at the end of next week. He has previously traveled down the amateur baseball draft road. Early during his senior year at St. John’s Prep in Danvers, Mass., Connaughton let it be known that should he be selected in the amateur draft in June 2011 (the San Diego Padres took him in the 38th round, 1,163rd overall) he still was headed to Notre Dame.

Three years later, he’s a better pitcher for it. His mechanics are more polished. He has better command and confidence in something besides a 90-plus mph fastball. His delivery, which once was all arms, is more compact and efficient.

“The coaches (at Notre Dame) pushed me in the right direction and definitely fixed a lot of things,” he said. “There’s obviously a lot more I can get better at.”

Connaughton has spent the last three years playing more basketball than baseball. There were times when he’d play an afternoon game (he went for 23 points and 11 rebounds in a memorable victory over Marquette as a freshman), then throw off the mound at night. This past school year, Connaughton threw consistently on the side during basketball season, but still was limited to 62 innings of work over 10 games after jumping to baseball 17 games into that schedule.

Why not just scrap one more year of hoops to concentrate full-time on baseball and the comfortable signing bonus that likely would come with it?

Easier said than done for someone who loves basketball, mainly because he’s been able to exceed the sport’s expected ceiling. Playing basketball at St. John’s Prep, where he was the Gatorade Player of the Year in Massachusetts as a senior, Connaughton heard from plenty who insisted he’d never be a legitimate Division I prospect. Heading into his senior year, he became a gotta-get guy who chose Notre Dame over UCLA.

How far can Connaughton take his basketball career? Who knows?

“That part intrigues me,” he said. “Right now, baseball seems to be the route the best success may come in the future, but why pick now when I’m not forced to pick it?”

Picking would be a little easier if Connaughton was not such a main guy in hoops. He’s likely to serve this winter as team captain with every opportunity to improve on a breakout junior season that saw him earn Atlantic Coast Conference honorable mention honors after averaging career highs for points (13.8), rebounds (7.1), assists (2.9) and minutes (37.2).

“Fortunately, basketball is there and fortunately, I’ve been able to work myself into a position to have a big impact on this team,” he said. “That’s something I take pride in and something I want to stick around and help the team win.”

There’s even a chance that Connaughton remains at Notre Dame for the entire 2014-15 academic year. Connaughton heard prior to his junior season of baseball that he was a possible first-round pick. Factoring basketball into the equation likely slides his stock somewhere within the top five rounds. If it drops further toward a round that’s close to his baseball/basketball uniform number (24), Connaughton offered the option of not signing at all and returning to the Irish baseball team next spring.

“Hopefully, I’ll be able to get selected in the Major League draft,” he said, “and then take it from there.”

Twitter: TNoie@NDInsider

Notre Dame pitcher Pat Connaughton throws a pitch in the first inning Friday, May 9, 2014, in a game in Eck Stadium against Clemson during the first game with new field turf. (SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ)
After being limited to 18 games his senior year at Notre Dame because of a knee injury, swingman Scott Martin played in 37 games with 18 double-doubles for points and rebounds in his first professional season with Newcastle in England.(SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)